Silk painter conveys how emotions change the act of seeing
Seyna Fredrickson’s early artistic efforts included sculpting animals from soap and painting a portrait of her brother playing guitar — a piece that ended up as part of an international “American Life” exhibit. By the time she was in high school, her dedication to the creative life was so evident she was even allowed to skip part of the normal class curriculum to allow time for art study.
Today, Fredrickson’s preferred medium is silk painting, which she discovered soon after ending her career in corporate consulting. “I decided when I retired that I wanted to do something quicker, lighter, and more colorful,” she says. “I love silk, and read about silk painting and decided to try it. It came pretty naturally to me, and I loved the vivid colors.” Starting with painted scarves, Fredrickson soon expanded her technique to more ambitious, botanically themed silk paintings mounted on canvas.
Painting on silk is a delicate business. “Traditional silk painting uses a resist, to keep the dyes from running all over, and that’s how I worked at first,” Fredrickson says. “But I like not having the distraction of resist lines in my painting.” So she uses a commercially available “sizing” — a liquid that seals the surface — in a “stop-flow” technique, allowing for the same control a painter would have with oils on canvas or watercolor on paper.
“Currently I’m doing flower portraits, but over time I’ll paint animals and people,” she muses. “My art has always been about portraits.”
Importing her silk from China, Fredrickson begins a new work by anchoring the silk to a wooden frame. “For complex designs, I may pre-draw the design,” she says. “For simpler designs, I may refer to a photograph, but paint it freehand. I make creative decisions all the way through.”
Once the painting is done, the silk has to dry for 24 hours, after which it’s layered with clean newsprint and rolled in a stainless-steel steamer of Fredrickson’s own design. For her scarves, Fredrickson washes a piece several times after steaming, lets it air dry, and then irons it while it’s still damp.
“I think any color palette works with silk, and many of my scarves surprise people in the subtlety of their colors, and the color combinations,” Fredrickson notes. “Flowers, though, are bringing me to use some pretty bright colors right now.” Vivid oranges, yellows, greens, and pinks dominate her floral work, remarkable for their compositional integrity despite the fragility of the medium.
While silk painting has dominated her most recent work, sculpting — the focus of her collegiate art education at Brandeis University, with its proximity to the deCordova Museum and its collection of Rodin sculptures — is never far in the background. She has produced portrait busts in metal, stone, and clay, along with a delightful series of doll-sized figures. “I’m also playing with making jewelry with precious-metal clay as an outlet for sculpting,” she adds.
Settling with her husband and three dogs in Etowah after retiring from her professional career in 2017, Fredrickson has found inspiration in the forms and lush foliage of the mountains. “We couldn’t believe the beauty and the great weather when we first saw this area,” Fredrickson recalls. The landscape reawakened her love of color and led her to devote herself full time to, as she puts it, “seeing with the heart.”
The artist explains: “When you really get to know a person, a pet, even a flower or a leaf, you start to see differently … emotions arise as part of your seeing. That’s what I try to communicate in my paintings.”
Seyna Fredrickson, Etowah. Studio visits by appointment. Fredrickson will vend at Artisanville in Greenville, SC, on Nov. 2 and 3 (artisanville.net). For more information about the artist, see silkodyssey.com. The artist’s work is carried by Firefly Craft Gallery (2689 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock, 828-231-0764, fireflycraftgallery.com).